Neïl Beloufa at Kunstraum Innsbruck
/ ArtReview

Art Review - January 2013

Where’s Innsbruck? What it’s like? Well, it’s worth the journey. In the course of just two years Veit Loers, veteran exhibitions-maker with a taste for the darker side of power, has invited Danh Vo, Gregor Schneider and Thomas Zipp to this Alpine valley and turned the provincial Austrians tate capital’s ‘art space’ into something of a treasure. Most recently, with a show by Neïl Beloufa, his farewell celebrations proved to be an unexpected highpoint. Beloufa – twenty-seven, French, with roots in Algeria – already stood out at Okwui Enwezor’s Paris Triennial. He has just turned the Palais de Tokyo’s Galerie Basse into an idiosyncratic island landscape and is about to show at Kunsthaus Bregenz. His work gets under your skin in Innsbruck, too: the Kunstraum looks like a trashed holiday camp in a Michel Houellebecq novel.

Plywood partitions, foam-rubber cushions, pallets, cables and metal rods – shabby leftovers from civilisation – are strewn around the space, creating a rhythm of their own. A few photographs of monumental architectural structures are stuck here and there: on the gallery walls, crude scrawls recall cave paintings or bunker graffiti. Bits have been hacked out of the walls and are now lying around on the floor, like deformed building blocks, fragmented echoes of Modernism. Everything is roughly daubed with whitewash. The dulled tactility of the scene might call to mind Absalon’s Cellules if it were not for the story adding another dimension to this situation.

On two of the walls, playing with a time delay, is a video of a house somewhere outside Algiers. This was occupied by terrorists for three years; but oddly they left no trace of their presence, and in any case, with its big windows, veranda and tropical garden, it was hardly the ideal hideout – and so beautiful that the state militia’s commanding officer (obviously a Frank Lloyd Wright fan) evidently didn’t want to destroy it. Beloufa heard about it from his mother, who lives close by. He went there, from Paris, and asked the neighbours, the gardener and the owner about anything they might have seen; he recorded everything they said and later added their voices to footage shot on a set he built back in France. Figures make their way slowly and steadily through a strangely flat, warm-coloured ambience with panorama wallpaper and plywood chairs. We never see their faces; it’s a bewildering scenario, with the witness’s words providing a narrative collage. Whether the terrorist story is true or not is neither here nor there. It’s become a myth, and the house is just a stage where a drama is played out.

Neo-noir, science fiction and archaic visual memories – Beloufa creates a self-sufficient poetry of things unfathomable and cryptic, a deprived theatre of the absurd. As in the Palais de Tokyo, where his videos, filmed in situ, of the apocalypse of the ‘hipster era’ are projected directly onto sculptures, at Documents are Flat 4 visitors stumble through an existentially saturated fake. Beloufa sets traps for himself, but he doesn’t fall foul of any of them. Steering clear of multicultural kitsch and political Pop, modishly abject materials and smart responses to Modernism, he permeates the space with the menacing, dark sounds of the aforementioned myth, giving the surreal game a melancholy tinge. What Nietzsche called a ‘concentrated image of the world’, providing spiritual refuge for rootless wanderers, becomes in Beloufa’s hands an ascetic *tableau vivant* for the late-modernist viewer clinging precariously to the globe. Who said all the great narratives are a thing of the past? Neïl Beloufa’s story is still unfolding. 

Translated from the German by Fiona Elliott

© Gesine Borcherdt